Thursday, 26 November 2015

Today, while read­ing Tom Vanderbilt’s The Pleasure and Pain of Speed from Nautilus’ Issue 9, I learned about the sac­cade. This is the term for the rapid move­ment of eyes be­tween fix­a­tion on dif­fer­ent ob­jects. Our vi­sual per­cep­tion is ba­si­cally turned off dur­ing this time — which, ap­par­ently, makes up about 60 — 90 min­utes of our day.

This ties in nicely to an an­thro­po­log­i­cal the­ory I have that I wrote about over a decade ago: The Space Between Thoughts. I think we have an in­stinc­tual aware­ness that our per­cep­tions are in­com­plete — and then we come up with all kinds of sto­ries and the­o­ries for what hap­pens in those gaps, and where our per­cep­tion fails. What hap­pens dur­ing a sac­cade. The sac­cade is where the coin reap­pears — where the magic hap­pens.

It’s nice to fi­nally have a word for it.

Historical Footnotes

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

I posit that the event hori­zon of “his­tor­i­cally im­por­tant” as a qual­ity of in­for­ma­tion is the point at which the dataset dis­ap­pears from liv­ing mem­ory. The mag­ni­tude of cer­tain events en­sures that they will be recorded for pos­ter­ity, but even then, the rea­sons be­hind that record­ing fade as the peo­ple who ex­pe­ri­enced it die. I might be us­ing the wrong terms here. Maybe it’s not his­tory I’m talk­ing about, but an­thro­pol­ogy. History is “these are the things that hap­pened”; an­thro­pol­ogy is “these are the ways peo­ple acted.”

Living as I do, in a so­ci­ety where many peo­ple are ar­guably ob­sessed with record­ing and archiv­ing every de­tail of their lives, I won­der what meth­ods fu­ture historians/​anthropologists will use to sift wheat from chaff — es­pe­cially when, as this post is ev­i­dence for, so much of what is shared and saved is chaff.

That’s long-term his­toric­ity. If his­tory is still be­ing recorded 5,000 years from now, this whole epoch will likely be re­duced to a one-liner: “An age of tech­no­log­i­cal growth so rapid it’s ef­fects threat­ened to de­stroy civ­i­liza­tion.”

Specific to this is the rise of the au­to­mated au­to­bi­og­ra­phy. People have been post­ing things on­line so long now that there are ser­vices to show us and let us share what we were do­ing to the day, 1, 3, 5, or 10 years ago. Is there a broader de­sire to con­sume these mini-his­to­ries, or do they just ex­ist to serve our need to feel more im­por­tant than we are? It doesn’t have to be either/​or. My bet is that it’s an ad­mix­ture of onanism, ex­hi­bi­tion­ism, and voyeurism.

Signal to noise de­pends on your ears.

Trash is trea­sure.


Sunday, 26 April 2015

This morn­ing, my dog and I caught God
try­ing to sneak through the city like
a man skip­ping Mass in search of a drink.

He still filled the sky and his steps were
like the echoes of an empty hall­way.
My dog just wagged her tail but I

shouted at him:
He didn’t turn, just cre­ated a dirty rab­bit

which he threw over-shoul­der at my dog. 
I don’t know if my dog or the rab­bit was
more sur­prised. The rab­bit dis­si­pated 

us­ing nat­u­ral rab­bit-magic, and when I looked, so had God. The city whis­pered
an an­tiphon: Kýrie, eléison.

On Aging

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Aging is the process of learn­ing to ap­pre­ci­ate grey­ness. It is only a gen­tle irony that our hair takes on that hue. The things chil­dren ap­pre­ci­ate and learn about are de­fined by clar­ity: a color, a taste, an emo­tion. As time passes and ex­pe­ri­ences pile up, red be­comes oxblood, sweet­ness and emo­tions take shape by their in­ten­sity.

My nearly-seven son cares not for fic­tion. He wants facts in books. The clar­ity has grown in scope, but not in com­plex­ity. This will con­tinue un­til at some point he will be­come old.

That’s where I sit: on old side of things. You be­come old when your ex­pe­ri­en­tial knowl­edge gives you the abil­ity to dis­cern facts from things that pur­port to be facts; and you ap­pre­hend or com­pre­hend that the act of know­ing is equal parts be­lief and agenda. 

So I no longer de­mand clar­ity. My scope has nar­rowed. I know that no mat­ter how good that beer might be, I’ll en­joy bour­bon more. I know that there is no point try­ing to con­vince peo­ple who hold fun­da­men­tal po­si­tions on a topic to change their minds. I have reached the lim­its of clar­ity and move cau­tiously in the vast mist that ex­ists be­tween facts, and be­tween knowl­edge and re­al­ity. Red is a gra­di­ent, fla­vors are com­bined, emo­tions are deep and sa­vored. I un­der­stand how it is frus­trat­ing to the not-old to see what ap­pears to be a lack of con­cern, or a con­cern with the un­sub­stan­tial. The fre­quency of the old is longer, both ex­pe­ri­en­tially and rel­a­tivis­ti­cally.

To be old is to be a ship hap­pily lost in fog, sa­vor­ing the sub­tlety of the phan­toms that flit about the cor­ners of our eyes, that, when we were young, we once mis­took for friends.

Empathy is Not Always a Virtue

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

I’ve writ­ten a few times about the qual­i­ties of em­pa­thy and our society’s gen­eral need for more of it in the last year or so. However, em­pa­thy is not al­ways a virtue. When you em­pathize with some­one so much that you be­come emo­tion­ally in­ca­pable of meet­ing your own re­spon­si­bil­i­ties (like, say, tak­ing your fi­nal ex­ams), you have left the path of rea­son and ac­count­abil­ity, and be­come a type of fun­da­men­tal­ist.

And there is no ef­fec­tive mode of dis­course with a fun­da­men­tal­ist.

Thoughts on Privilege, Listening, Empathy, Discretion & Brokenness

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

I’m 33, and I think I’m fi­nally start­ing to in­ter­nal­ize what priv­i­lege means. I’ve al­ways per­ceived its fram­ing as a neg­a­tive. “You have priv­i­lege, and that’s not fair.” To which my thought has al­ways been: “Okay, so what am I sup­posed to do about it?” Denying it is fool­ish, and not us­ing it (which is what I’ve tried to do for a long time) is also fool­ish. I feel like the best use of my priv­i­lege is to ex­er­cise it in ways that are the op­po­site of pa­tron­iza­tion.

The eas­i­est method to start, for me, is to lis­ten with in­ten­tion to those who don’t share my priv­i­lege and have things to say. So the Under 30 open mic at Guide to Kulchur every week is a good chance for me to do that. I’m the only old per­son there. Meanwhile, up­stairs, there’s a po­etry chap­book called “For the Young Poets of Cleveland” writ­ten by an old white guy who is prob­a­bly in his late 50s. He was a grown-ass man when I was 4. The epony­mous poem is a list of rules for young po­ets to fol­low. The sec­ond poem is a trib­ute to d.a. levy. That pins this guy squarely to the priv­i­lege of every other old white guy poet in town who thinks po­etry be­gan and ended with the Beats. No young poet is go­ing to pick up that chap­book with any­thing other than de­ri­sion in mind. The dude ain’t got a clue be­cause he’d rather be di­dac­tic than lis­ten to what ac­tual young po­ets have to say. That’s what I’m try­ing not to be. (UPDATE: And thanks to Andy, in the com­ments be­low, I’ve learned that the guy hasn’t even lived in the area for 30 years.)

So I lis­ten. Hard. And I try to re­lease my eas­ily reached priv­i­leged judg­ments, be­cause that’s not any sort of pro­duc­tive.

Next up is em­pa­thy. I’ve al­ways been pretty good at em­pa­thy, but I re­al­ized that I know that and have there­fore not been prac­tic­ing it. A lazy em­pa­thy. When I lis­ten hard, I can’t be lazily em­pa­thetic. There are plenty of sit­u­a­tions that I haven’t been in that make it hard for me to un­der­stand what and why a per­son is feel­ing the way they are feel­ing, but their feel­ings are still valid. There’s no such thing as an in­valid feel­ing. I’ve been work­ing re­ally hard with my son on this, try­ing to de­velop a healthy un­der­stand­ing of feel­ings and their causes; a place we can both feel safe shar­ing. I’m try­ing to ex­tend that em­pa­thy to every­one else that shares things with me. Maybe I haven’t been in the ex­act sit­u­a­tion, but try­ing to un­der­stand, and ask­ing to un­der­stand get me most of the way there. Chances are I’ve had the same feel­ings my­self once in awhile.

What I’ve most re­cently awoken to is the virtue of dis­cre­tion. Typically dis­cre­tion is as­signed to one’s per­sonal af­fairs, but that’s small pota­toes com­pared to its ex­er­cise when it comes to the af­fairs that an­other shares with you. I’ve told many peo­ple over the years that se­crets die with me, and I’m still bat­ting a thou­sand on that count. I never re­ally thought of that in­ten­tion as some­thing par­tic­u­larly valu­able, but lately I’ve re­al­ized that it shouldn’t be de­nied. I know of not a few friend­ships that have dis­in­te­grated be­cause some­thing was shared in con­fi­dence, but the con­fi­dant could not keep their trap shut. Few things need more care than the vul­ner­a­bil­ity a friend en­trusts to you. Friendship can be treated far too flip­pantly.

All of this sort of ties into a fi­nal idea I’ve been chew­ing on. The con­cept that we are all partly bro­ken. The need to rec­og­nize that fact, the need to un­der­stand that peo­ple han­dle their bro­ken parts in dif­fer­ent ways. Some pre­tend they are whole, some pre­tend they are wholly bro­ken. There are as many ways to per­form bro­ken­ness as there are ways to be bro­ken. If you un­der­stand that, ac­cept your own bro­ken bits, the prac­tice of in­ten­tional lis­ten­ing, em­pa­thy & dis­cre­tion be­comes very ful­fill­ing. You know you’re do­ing bet­ter at en­sur­ing noth­ing you do makes chips and shat­ters on an­other per­son. You’ll still do it, be­cause you’re partly bro­ken too, but maybe some­one else will lis­ten, em­pathize, and honor your shar­ing.

Love and Fear

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Sometimes when my son hugs me, I feel com­pletely hum­bled and un­de­serv­ing of the love he shares with me. My love for him pours out in an un­stop­pable and un­end­ing tor­rent; it is easy to love him be­cause it is in­vol­un­tary. My love for him is so con­sum­ing that I don’t have the spare neu­rons to ex­pect any­thing back. So, when it comes back in the shape of his smile, its like get­ting the wind knocked out of you — it is be­wil­der­ing, ter­ri­fy­ing. So, when Christians talk about liv­ing in fear of the Lord, I imag­ine it’s a fear en­gen­dered by be­ing over­whelmed by a love you don’t un­der­stand.

Love can make you hum­ble when you re­ceive it, but it can also make you hum­ble when you give it. Sometimes you give, and some­times it gets pulled from you. You can­not con­trol it, you are over­awed by it, you fear look­ing at your face, fear your lips, fear your hands be­cause you’re not sure what they’ll do. Fear that the love will cause it­self harm, or harm to those it is in­tended for, or that it might not be re­ceived at all.

But this ter­ror noth­ing com­pared to when your love is re­ceived and then given back to you. Love is hon­or­ing some­one more than your­self, it liv­ing for some­one or some­thing else, some­thing be­yond you. It’s not re­ally sur­pris­ing then, that, when the per­son you love also loves you, that the ac­knowl­edge­ment and re­cep­tion of that af­fec­tion is con­found­ing. How could I, who am con­vinced that this per­son is more im­por­tant to me than my own be­ing, com­pre­hend that they might feel a sim­i­lar way about me. How could I be wor­thy?

That must be like stand­ing in­side a bell as it is rung. For what could sus­tain love bet­ter than re­ceiv­ing it back, am­pli­fied, from the one you give it to?